Interamerican Protestantisms

    Receipt: April 13, 2021

    Acceptance: April 27, 2021

    Las sectas protestantes y el espíritu del (anti-)imperialismo. Entrelazamientos religiosos en las Américas (Ensayos Interamericanos, 8)

    Heinrich W. Schäfer, 2020 Kipu/CIAS, Bielefeld, 250 pp.

    Heinrich Schäfer anchors the story in two years whose temporal distance covers a century, 1916 and 2016, and whose climax is the period of the last three decades of the century. xx. Its spatial starting point is Panama, and like almost every piece of music, it ends at the same starting point. Evangelical congresses were held in this city - 1916 and 2016 - with different scenarios due to modified missionary perspectives and diversified religious actors. How and why did these changes come about? Schäfer explains it in seven chapters-including the introduction-and a very brief postface.

    At the outset, it may not be very clear to the reader what sources the author used, but Heinrich Schäfer's broad journey as a scholar of Central American Protestantism, as a theologian and sociologist, has its empirical basis in the extensive bibliography of the classic studies of Latin American Protestantism (Emilio Willems, Lalive d'Epinay, David Stoll and José Míguez); although throughout the work he does not engage in a continuous dialogue with this bibliography, he does raise a criticism of one of its main exponents, David Martin. This absent dialogue is explained by the very nature of the book, i.e., it is an essay that synthesizes many of the author's previous reflections and exchanges throughout his career, as indicated by the series of twelve Inter-American Essays of Center for InterAmerican Studies of the University of Bielefeld, of which the book under review is a part.1

    Although the book deals with Protestantisms, the breadth of aspects covered is inherent to the historiographical perspective of intertwinings, which is also known as the "intertwining" perspective. Entagled History and Croissant HistoryThe author bases his essay on it, as stated in the subtitle of the book, Religious intertwining in the Americas. And following this perspective, Schäfer interweaves the space between the United States and Latin America, the actors between American and Latin American Protestants, rightists and leftists, and the time between the evangelical ventures of the beginning of the 20th century. xx and the beginning of the century xxi. In this sense, the book's Intertwined or Interwoven History contributes to the dialogue between what is known as Connected History (Connected History) and History of the Present Time, with the aim of showing how the American and Latin American politico-religious culture constituted each other. In the anthropological and sociological field of religion, it contributes to think about the profile or category of inter-American Protestantisms, appealing to a process that has been intuited in the bibliographical production on this subject but had not been sufficiently made explicit. At first, it was discussed about an American Protestantism transplanted in Latin American lands, then about a Latin American Protestantism with an impact reduced to its own borders. Schäfer's work allows us to observe various Protestantisms that constantly question each other, creating an inter-American matrix.

    The structural thread of the book begins in the chapter "Panama 1916 and its antecedents", with the drawing of the main features of American Protestantism, and then, in the third chapter, it goes to the knot that will allow understanding the links between those two spaces and religious actors. On this basis, Schäfer develops two examples of the transition from a Protestantism of American spirit to a Latin American Protestantism(s), in Brazil and Bolivia. The transition and shaping of these socio-political spirits would bring tensions and tragic results, mainly in Central America, encouraged by a "military-spiritual war". And little by little, the directionality of this bond and knot is becoming doubly apparent, because tensions and conflicts were defining more clearly the American and Latin American Protestant profiles; in this sense, the changes in Catholic and Protestant religiosity now influence the socio-religious and political sphere of the "good neighbor" to the North. The result, for Schäfer, is evident when the religious missionary organizations meet again a century later in Panama.

    Historian Werner and sociologist Zimmermann, proponents of the Croissant Historyreferring to a concrete image of what crossing implies, that is, bending transversely one object over another, they say that "this creates a point of intersection where the events that may occur are capable of affecting in different degrees the elements present depending on their resistances, permeability or malleability, and their environment" (2006: 37).2 In my opinion, the third chapter, "Interweaving of religious dispositions", is the point of intersection, since it takes up what has been exposed in the two previous chapters and prepares us for the following four chapters.

    In this chapter, Schäfer touches on two general points of great relevance for understanding his proposal: 1) the "elective affinities" that guide the intertwinements and 2) the religious dispositions that are transferred, modified or denied. Schäfer identifies eighteen aspects of Latin America that are distinct from U.S. politico-religious culture, but at the same time possess a small gap that makes them related and thus intertwined. In this review I discuss them in general terms.

    In the struggles of the post-independence Latin American elites between anti-Catholic liberalism and pro-Catholic Hispanism, the demand for religious freedom was a constant. usa was one of those nations that had achieved their independence and ensured a religious freedom, worthy of expansion; therefore, it was taken as an example for Latin American countries, since, although the liberals were anti-Catholic, it did not mean that they were also anti-religious. In this sense, there was an affinity in the minimal need for religiosity within some of the political spheres. At usaThe First Amendment referred to the impediment of the State to interfere in religious matters, but not necessarily to the fact that religiosity could not intervene in the sphere of the State. Meanwhile, in Latin America, there began to be talk of religious tolerance.

    However, usa had a Puritan colonial past to found a political present linked to the religious, for the foundation of its Puritan-American exceptionalism was to be a New Jerusalem or a "city on the hill" to which the whole world could look with pride and longing (chap. 2). Unlike Latin America, which had an antithetical colonial past, the Catholic one, its only referent to the past would be liberalism. For Schäfer, this condition led to a greater openness and softening of the Protestant doctrinal hard core. In my opinion, it could be said that it had two relevant effects.

    The first was the insertion of anti-Catholic Marxism and socialism in Latin America, producing in Catholicism the Theology of Liberation, a clear opponent of U.S. expansionist directives. In Protestantism, leftist sectors -or, as Löwy (1999) would call them, liberationist Protestantism- emerged and manifested themselves in the evangelical congresses; for example, there was an evident difference between the Congress on Christian Work in Latin America of 1916 in Panama and the Congress on Christian Work in South America of 1925 in Montevideo. In the former, the predominance of American missionaries with a Pan-Americanist vision was notorious, unlike the latter, which was distinguished "by a strong Latin American presence" and where "the Chilean national committee demanded that the relationship between capital and labor be thematized" (p. 105).

    At first glance they seem to be different positions, but in reality this modification was possible due to the existence of an affinity. In broad strokesThe U.S. missionaries saw some lines of action in education, economics and politics in which it was necessary to proclaim equality, freedom, individualism and democracy. In a certain way, for the Committee on Cooperation in Latin America -organizer of both congresses- the Gospel of Christ had to be put into practice in Latin America so that the new democratic republics could come closer to what Jesus described as the Kingdom of God. This type of Protestant vision had been shaped by the evangelicalism arising from the two great religious revivals of 1734 and 1837-1838. Schäfer identifies this enterprise as the Social Gospel. Were they seeking a theocracy by talking about the establishment of (American) democracy as
    feature of the Kingdom of God on earth? Schäfer says yes; but that at the beginning of the century xx were only seen as mere moral acts reduced to the levels of local congregations, a kind of moral left committed to liberating the poor from oppression and rejecting injustice. In Latin America, however, Protestantism would eventually move to the left, as happened with the two cases described by Schäfer in chapter 4. Brazil with the Christian socialism inspired by the Presbyterian Erasmo Braga and promoted by Waldo César during the military dictatorship between the mid-1960s and 1980s (pp. 106-111) and Bolivia with the Christian socialism inspired by the Presbyterian Erasmo Braga and promoted by Waldo César during the military dictatorship between the mid-1960s and 1980s (pp. 106-111). 106-111) and Bolivia with the founding of the Latin American Theological Fraternity in December 1970, as part of the impulses of Latin American theologians such as Samuel Escobar and René Padilla (pp. 111-116).

    The second effect. For Schäfer, the vision of Latin American Protestantism was oriented toward the future. In that sense, the social Darwinism and secular evolutionism presented by the American missionaries at the end of the century xix and early xx were an attractive option in social terms. And just as there was a leftist Protestant tendency, there were also Latin American Protestant Pan-Americanist networks. However, in the religious aspect, the two millenarianist projections (pre and post) of a future divine kingdom gave a new horizon.

    Neo-Pentecostal post-millennialism not only took up the Social Gospel, but also the idea of sanctification of American Protestantism. Sanctification and perfectionism, as fundamental pieces for the preservation of the exclusive Pact with the Puritan colony (American exceptionalism), make it necessary to establish - as Schäfer explains - a dynamic of sanctification towards the inside (the elect) and demonization towards the outside; in the case of American Protestantism, the devil and demons were seen in Native Americans, witches, and even in Spanish Catholics. This is how spiritual warfare carried into the realm of physical violence happened from the xviialthough these wars were repeated during the seventies, eighties and nineties of the twentieth century. xx in Central and Latin America, hand in hand with military coups and dictatorships. As Schäfer rightly points out, although it was not possible to transfer the expansionist sentiment to Latin American Protestantism, it was possible to transfer the sentiment of the Covenant with God. The construction of the Temple of Solomon of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is an example; and also the deadly administration of Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983) in Guatemala, projected as the first evangelical country, and adding the case of the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. The dynamics of external demonization in Latin America was directed against native peoples, communists, Catholics and liberationist evangelicals (topics developed in chapter 5).

    The door had been opened for the emotionalist, fundamentalist and charismatic strengthening of Pentecostalism during the neoliberal era (chapter 6), where, once again, we could see an intertwining and affinity with the hacienda as a corporate and hierarchical institution that was sustained by the colonial hegemony of Catholicism, which, despite fulfilling a function different from that of Protestantism in the USA, was also the support of a particular system of socioeconomic organization. Neo-Pentecostalism would retake the hacienda model at this time to re-emerge, according to Schäfer, as a modern authoritarianism, and that in usa would take the form of a ceo which exercises control in a different way, but with a similar function.

    At the same time, migration is intensifying as we look to usa as a land of dreams and better opportunities. The author asserts that migrant Catholics have modified the American Catholic camp; for their part, the increase in Latino evangelicals has drawn right- and left-leaning forces, which inevitably exert some impact on the electoral processes in the United States. usa. The establishment of the Apostolic Assembly of the Faith in Christ Jesus by Mexicans in usa is a special example for Schäfer, as they established lines of evangelistic action not only in their homelands, but also in the United States.

    With this, Schäfer shows that the same religious dispositions of American Protestantism are re-signified in different ways in the Latin American adoption process; one can speak of a Protestantism of the left and of the right, which, in turn, maintain ties with religious organizations of the North. In the 2016 Panama congresses, the North American religious right maintained a vision of a Pan-American spirit with the idea of polycentric missiology, while the emergence of the Society of Pentecostal Studies demonstrated that Latin American Pentecostalism challenges the leading pretensions of American religious intellectuals (Chapter 7).

    To close the review, the Weberian allusion in the title of the book cannot be avoided. The author's interpretation is not mechanical, since the notion of intertwining allows him to adequately address the elective affinities between the Protestant ethic and the political spirit of the "two Americas" that he was able to observe when considering the distinction between social classes. In sum, Protestantism is neither uniquely imperialist, nor totally anti-imperialist. From my perspective, this work answers the doubts left by Weber himself:

    The [capitalist] shell has become empty of spirit... No one knows who will occupy that shell in the future, and whether at the end of this monstrous development new prophets will arise and a vigorous revival of old ideas and ideals will be witnessed, or whether on the contrary, a wave of petrification will envelop everything... it should now be investigated how Protestant asceticism was in turn influenced in its development and fundamental characteristics by the totality of cultural and social conditions, especially for the economic onesin whose bosom he was born (2011: 248-249).

    Schäfer presents an overview of the economic conditions that provided a particular spirit to the religious transformation of Protestantism, which gave rise to new prophets and apostles who took up old ideals to forge a new religious and political future. But all this was made possible through religious intertwining with various Catholic and evangelical Latin American countries.

    Finally, I raise the following criticisms, which are of a very general nature and do not detract at all from what has been said. There is a perennial need to overcome binary classifications (left-right, conservative-liberal, etc.), because it would seem that the Latin American spirit is by nature leftist, and consequently everything leftist is susceptible to being adjectivized as Latin American. Likewise, it is still necessary to leave out of this dichotomous straitjacket the indigenous churches and/or religious positions of the original peoples, since the indigenous religious dispositions precede this scheme originated in the formation of the Nation-States, or are the Latin American indigenous Protestantisms condemned to this scheme for having liberalism as their only past referent?


    Löwy, Michael (1999). Guerra de dioses. Religión y política en América Latina. México: Siglo xxi.

    Weber, Max (2011). La ética protestante y el espíritu del capitalismo. México: fce.

    Werner, Michael y Bénédicte Zimmermann (2006). “Beyond Comparison: Histoire Croisée and the challenge of reflexivity”. History and Theory, núm. 45, pp. 30-50.

    Ezer Roboam May May is a social anthropologist from the wow and master's degree in history from the ciesas-Peninsular. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in history at the same institution. Her research interests are the social sciences of religion and beliefs, specifically on historical Protestantism and Buddhism in Mexico. She has published in specialized magazines and popularization spaces on these topics, and has also written short texts for journalistic platforms on Mayan peoples and development. He is a member of Maya K'ajlayThe Mayan Peoples' Public History Collective.

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